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Kan. physician pleads not guilty to drug charges

By JOHN MILBURN

Associated Press

TOPEKA -- A Kansas doctor on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to four federal charges, including illegally distributing prescription drugs out of his Manhattan medical clinic.

Michael Schuster, of Manhattan, was indicted last week on multiple counts alleging he operated a pill mill from his clinic. Schuster, 53, entered his plea Tuesday after being read the charges by U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary Sebelius in Topeka.

The doctor, who was born and educated in Russia, told Sebelius that he understood the charges and had read the documents spelling out the government's case against him.

A grand jury returned an indictment May 1 charging Schuster with one count each of conspiracy to illegally distribute controlled substances, drug distribution, unlawfully distributing drugs to a person under 21 years old and using and maintaining a premise for drug distribution. Prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of money and property linked to the crimes.

The remainder of the court appearance focused on Schuster's detention, with Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Maag presenting financial records detailing the defendant's financial records and property, including Swiss and Canadian bank accounts that combined once totaled more than $1 million, along with property throughout the United States, Canada and South America.

The detention hearing to determine if Schuster will continue to be held in federal custody will continue Thursday in Topeka.

Schuster's wife, Janet Immer, testified that she and her husband fled the former Soviet Union as political refugees in 1990. Both became U.S. citizens in 1995, settling in Brooklyn, N.Y., before coming to Kansas to accept a position with Mercy Hospital in Manhattan in 2004. The couple has three children, including a daughter living in Paraguay where Immer said the couple owns a home worth more than $300,000 and recently paid $1.1 million for 2,000 acres from a Swiss bank account in March before the charges were filed.

She said the couple acquired the property for travel and hunting purposes, including acres in Alaska, Texas and Nova Scotia. Immer, 53, said the couple owns the property outright, but some of the land in Nevada and Arizona is not worth the price they paid.

"We tried to sell the land in the last two months but no takers," Immer said.

The grand jury alleged that beginning on April 2007 until at least August 2012, Schuster engaged in a scheme to unlawfully distribute controlled substances. The indictment accuses him of directing and allowing staff members to dispense controlled substances using blank prescription pads he left behind signed while he traveled. He employed between eight to 12 staff members, none of which were licensed to write prescriptions.

The government contends prescriptions from his clinic were issued to about 540 patients while Schuster was traveling out of Kansas or the country.

Most of the unlawful prescriptions cited in the indictment were for Oxycodone, although some also included morphine, Hydrocodone, and other controlled substances. The count related to distributing drugs to a person under age 21 involved prescriptions for Oxycodone and Oxycontin prescribed while he was in Canada.

The Kansas Board of Healing Arts has indefinitely suspended his medical license. Schuster also has surrendered his Drug Enforcement Agency license to prescribe controlled substances.

Schuster, previously known as Mikhail Pavlovich Shusterov, is a 1982 graduate of Stavropol State Medical Academy in Russia. Immer said the couple returned to Russia a few years ago to visit relatives but have no intention of ever returning to the country.

Immer said she had turned over her husband's two passports to Manhattan attorney Barry Clark, who is representing Schuster, including one issued in 2005 that Schuster told the State Department he had lost. However, Maag produced a document where Schuster told federal officials it was never issued, though he traveled twice to Canada on the passport to attend a medical conference.